By Phil Schipper / November 4th, 2015
|Release Date||October 12th, 2015|
|Platform||PC, Mac, Linux, Wii U|
In a world of ever-increasing fast pace, we often expect our games to be intense to match, especially in the action genre. So it’s a little surprising when a game comes along that rejects that idea completely — like Animal Gods.
Animal Gods begins in a sprawling central city area. The main character, Thistle, speaks cryptically of fallen gods, before hinting at what lies in the north, south, east and west. From here, you can choose from three of those directions right away, leading you down a long and very nice-looking road to the three main dungeons of the game. You can do them in any order without really changing your experience at all.
Each dungeon is based around one of the game’s three items: the cloak, the sword and the bow. You receive the dungeon’s item when you enter, get an upgrade that allows you to charge it up about halfway through, then lose it when you leave, so that it doesn’t change how you play the other two dungeons. The sword and bow are pretty straightforward — they allow you to eradicate the game’s incredibly simple enemies. Their challenge isn’t really combat the way you might think, though. Getting hit once will send you back to the last checkpoint with the enemies reset, but all of the enemies move in extremely predictable patterns. The trick is, instead of getting right into a fight, to step back and observe before finding a safe path.
The cloak is a bit different. It allows you to teleport a short distance, a little further if charged. Its dungeon is full of deadly lasers, gaps and moving platforms that you have to get past to proceed. This time, the difficulty is in judging the exact distance you’ll go. Often, the spot you have to land on is really small, and you have to get to it without overshooting. This of course gets even more complicated with the moving platforms. Plus, in order to charge the cloak for long distance you have to first make an initial short jump, forcing you to anticipate and plan your jumps.
Throughout each dungeon — and the central city area as well — you’ll come across diaries and logs that hint at the true purpose of the city, its past and why it’s so hauntingly empty. Combined with larger signs that shout the ideals of the lost society, you have the clues to piece together what happened, but the game does not just explain it outright. The bigger clues are rather out of your way, as is the hidden graveyard, which appears to be filled with the names of Kickstarter backers.
At the end of each dungeon, you’ll encounter the resting place of one of the three great Animal Gods. After a few words from Thistle, you’ll have to take on one final challenge with the dungeon’s item, in order to free the god from its captivity. Each one unlocks more areas of the city (with more tidbits of story) and when you’ve gotten all three, the fourth and final dungeon is revealed. It’s sort of a spoiler to mention much about its nature, but as you go through it, you’ll get all three of your previous dungeon items back, and finally be able to combine their uses. Unfortunately, this dungeon is actually the shortest of the four, and thus doesn’t necessarily get the most use out of having all three items at once.
The game itself is not very long at all — it wasn’t until I had finished it that I looked back on my play time and realized it had only been two hours! While there are probably a few more of the secret notes that I didn’t find, and it’s possible to replay the game in a much tougher “Lives-09” mode (giving you only 9 chances to respawn in each dungeon), I didn’t really see any need to go back to it afterward. While I initially used the long stretches of walking through scenery to digest subtle plot information, I realized that it would come across as tiresome if I had to do it again.
Let’s talk a little about the graphical style, since it is clearly one of the selling points. Objects are rendered as collections of simple shapes — squares and circles rule the visual landscape, with single colors each. It’s the composite of all these simple things that give the stages their distinctive looks, and make the gods look so memorable. Even the level design seems to revolve around making sure you have a good look at everything — often you’ll have to make a leap of faith through a passage that’s covered up by the scenery, where you can’t see Thistle at all.
Sound is secondary, on the other hand. Since the “enemies” in the game aren’t very active and don’t make sounds themselves, all you’ll really hear is the music, the effects of your items, and some loud rumblings that happen as you free the gods. Even the music doesn’t push itself into being noticed — rather, it’s calm and slow. It does help promote the feeling that taking your time and observing your surroundings is key. As for the sound effects? They’re alright, though the sword slash is a bit awkward. It wouldn’t be a big deal, but you’ll hear it a lot when you have it.
I’m really conflicted. I like the calm feeling of pondering on the story while carefully considering my actions. However, Animal Gods makes the mistake of putting these puzzle-like moments in the framework of combat. This is especially evident if you look at the original Kickstarter campaign, which seems to promise tightly-controlled action. There’s a screenshot of a huge multi-shot upgrade for the bow, used on hordes of nasty enemies. In the game we have now, though, the “enemies” feel more like traps that have to be disarmed.
I did like Animal Gods — I’m glad I played it — but it is very far from the kind of game it looks like and the kind it reports itself to be. I can imagine that Kickstarter backers, in particular, are pretty disappointed that it’s not what they originally paid for. I’m not saying you shouldn’t buy the game ($9.99 USD on Steam), but if you do… don’t expect intensely fun moments. That’s not what it’s about.
Review copy supplied by the publisher.
Action Adventureanimal godsPCplatformingpuzzlesstill gamesWii U